Emotional Options – why they help resolve conflict
When you are in the thick of all consuming emotions such as anger or fear, it’s hard to remember that you have a choice about how you respond to the person with whom you are in conflict. This isn’t surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of work and bravery to explore your emotions, your reactions and patterns.
The way that we behave in conflict reflects our behavioural patterns and learnt responses. It may be that when you were growing up, your parents resorted to violence to communicate their emotions. You may have grown up in a household where one parent would give the other the silent treatment as the other begged for forgiveness. The range of reactions often revolve around a few styles:
- Self-help – taking unilateral action such as violence or running away or;
- Avoidance – shying away from conflict and ignoring the other;
- Appeasement – doing anything to comply with the wishes of the other to stop the conflict;
- Confrontation – making clear the causes of conflict, how you feel and what needs to be done about it.
Whilst this may be surprising, all of these styles have their benefits in the right context. After all, somebody coming at you with a knife would be better dealt with by running if you don’t know any self-defence or judge the aggressor to succeed in causing you harm. Violence is also often necessary in defending yourself or somebody else in that scenario (although I can’t think of any other scenario where violence would be appropriate).
What is important to remember is that in any conflict, you have options as to which strategy you choose to employ. You don’t have to carry on reacting in the same way that your parents did to conflict (not that they all did it badly!) and you do have the power to make informed and constructive decisions about resolving conflict in a healthy manner.
Researchers found that verbalising emotions such as anger, fear, aggression, hatred and other negative emotions, as well as understanding how they influence behaviour and reactions to conflict help to create distance between the two (Ronan and Rosenbaum 2010). It gives you time to pause and decide how you want to respond, hopefully in a more considered way. Once participants in the study understood this, they could then use even more effective skills such as resisting instant gratification ( lashing out, for example), using your inner dialogue to rationalise your emotions and giving more thought to what you want to achieve from this interaction and the strategy you will employ to do so.
This takes time, patience and self -compassion. You will fail at this because you are human. But keep trying because this is what it means to be an adult with emotional maturity. Know that this is a work in progress until we die but the results along the way will help you lead a healthier, peaceful life in which you enjoy better, more intimate relationship on every level.
- Practice verbalising to yourself how you feel and reassure yourself that whatever it is, it’s perfectly fine. You can do this to yourself, in the mirror or practice with a trusted friend;
- Recognise that if you feel angered by somebody or you feel unsure as to how you will react, compassionately acknowledge that and create distance between yourself and the other. Even if you have to walk out of a room for 5 minutes to cool down or just breathe. Remove yourself.
- Congratulate yourself for creating distance!
- Ask yourself what you want to achieve from this conflict and how will I do this? If you reason that nothing can be achieved, maybe it’s best to walk away for good.
Our emotions usually cloud our judgements and it will help to acknowledge their presence and notice when they are preventing us from thinking clearly and strategically about conflict resolution. This is an on-going practice and won’t happen overnight but meditation, long walks, taking a breather, journaling your thoughts and feelings will help you make progress.